The first time Husband brought me to Winona, probably in summer of 1978, he introduced me to people in town, people out in the country, and one person in a boathouse (which is what residents prefer to call it, rather than houseboat). It was a tiny one room affair, compact and cleverly furnished, and I remember thinking how fun it would be to live there down on the river. It was so compact! I thought it would be similar to living in the trailer as we had those three summers I’ve written here about – very freeing to downsize, and get closer to nature.

I haven’t been aboard a boathouse since moving back here, but have driven on Latsch Island (in the Mississippi, between Winona and Wisconsin) – the boathouse community seems alive and well. I see that MPR recently did a short piece by Catharine Richert, based in Rochester on what it takes to live in a boathouse – not many residents tough it out for the entire winter. There are the animals (muskrats, turtles, snakes, spiders, mice, frogs) to contend with. Then there is the special “maintenance” invisible to landlubbers: ice buildup during the freeze-thaw cycle. The article states: “Unless the ice is kept at bay, water might flood in through a crack under a door or at the seam between the hull and an outer wall. It can pull the house apart, or under.”

But a close-knit community has grown up over the decades, demonstrating “ongoing communal learning with lessons passed on from houseboat owner to houseboat owner”, since there is no Boathouse Guidebook. Richie Swanson tells, for instance, of  ” ‘popping barrels’ — the ritual of forcing sealed plastic barrels under a houseboat to help it float, which Swanson said can take off a finger or a foot if you’re not careful. Swanson said the process is often a group effort among people who share a passion.”

A friend of mine is pictured toward the end of the article… in the purple slippers. She now lives in town, but keeps her boathouse for a work studio. I hope to see this place in person some day.

I agree with the article’s author, “It seems an enviable life for anyone who loves nature, except in those times when nature tries to take back the neighborhood.”

What is the closest you’ve come to living “with nature”?

50 thoughts on “Boathouse”

  1. Rise and Float Your Boat Baboons!

    What an interesting post, Barb. Love the topic of houseboats, the subject of one of my childhood fantasies.

    Over the years I have loved being close to nature, the most obvious example being camping. Also, from 1977-1979 I lived north of Grand Rapids, MN on a remote church camp. That was in the very heart of nature with loons, deer, wolves, eagles, owls, bears, hummingbirds, etc. all just outside the door. The bears loved the garbage barrels which resulted in an endless chore of picking up the garbage they strew everywhere if someone did not secure the bins. The wildlife also wanted to move in with us if we were not careful–the rodents were prodigious. And of course that is where I draw the line. A housecoat fixed that problem, until he brought his prey in the house to eat, then let it go.

    So I learned that nature is best appreciated outside my house.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. yes

        they have groups to help you cope when you lose your calendar. it is like losing your brain. smartphone has taken over but calendar is the same idea


        1. My autocorrects are usually not that funny, but they are almost always stupid, making me sound even stupider than usual.

          (I’m poking fun at myself; no need to rush to console me that I don’t sound stupid.)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. We always vist LTsch Island when we go to your town.
    As far as the question goes, I grew up in nature. Playing in it, working in it, watching it. Mr Tuxedo was asking me about that last night, while he waited for his new Switch Nintendo game player to charge.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Barbara, have you read “Old Glory: a Voyage Down the Mississippi” by Jonathan Raban. Bet the Winona library has copies.


  4. In the 1980s I took a fishing trip to an area of the Mississippi called The Weaver Bottoms. My outboard motor conked out, setting our boat to drift. We ended up floating into a tiny houseboat community clustered in protected water on the western shore of the river. Folks there rescued us and helped get my motor working again.

    My memory of the event centers on the unusual people who formed that community. They were united by a sense of indignation toward government. They furiously resisted being brought into line with the rules government is so fond of. Very few Minnesotans have ever known much about the independence and colorful variety of people who call themselves “River Rats” and live close to nature on the shores of the big river.


      1. I heard Kenny Salwey talk at the Science Museum about his life in the Mississippi River backwaters many years ago when the book was first published. He’s quite the storyteller. I’m sure I have the book around here somewhere.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. There still is a small community of people living in houseboats off of Harriet Island, right across from downtown St. Paul. I used to visit a massage therapist regularly back in the mid 90s who both lived and worked on a very nice, fairly large houseboat there. Will Steger lives on a small one in that same area whenever he’s in town.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Co-worker about 10 years ago lived on a Harriet Island boat. I was there a couple of times and couldn’t get past how far you’d have to carry your groceries over ice/snow to get from your car to your slip. Not to mention living on a boat in the winter.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. OT Sunday delivered son and grandson to airport. Sad. Yesterday I spent the morning with the orthopedic sorts of people, who told me what I told them, that there is nothing they can do about my pain. Yesterday afternoon we spent the afternoon restoring our small apartment. Today our bodies will try to recover. Three year old grandson is very precocious, not much he misses in spoken language. And very busy. Figures it all out. But needs some discipline, which will not happen with his parents. Living with him is living with a bit of nature. Glad he is not twins as our friend knows about.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I live with nature almost yearly on trips into the BWCA. I’ve probably done 25-30 since I was a kid. That truly is living “in nature” because all you ever have between you and the elements is a couple of layers of nylon tenting.

    We’ve also been big houseboating fans over the years. (sorry, can’t wrap my head around “boathouse”–that’s where boats are stored when not in use.) Trips have been to France (twice), Lake of the Woods, Lake Vermillion, the Mississippi, Voyageurs NP twice, the Thousand Islands area of Lake Ontario (spectacular, by the way),

    Chris in Owatonna


    1. I’m envious, Chris. Have been on a weekend houseboat (I use that term, it differentiates them from the semi-permanent structures) trip when I lived in CA – was a lot of fun, with about 12 of us to share the costs and cooking…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Our family tent camped ever summer in Colorado….cheap vacation with four kids on a professors salary & escape from Kansas heat and misquotes.

    When we moved here…Dec 17th, 1994…it was into my brother’s summer cabin until we took possession of our cabin in May. Fortunately there were a few days of 40 degree weather so we could get settled and ‘winterize’ as best we were able. Sheets of insulation went at a tilt along the bottom of the cabin (on blocks). Snow and rock packing to keep them in place and seal against the wind as best we could. Sheets also went into the rafters of the open ceiling…and a lot of taping. We used the fireplace after installing glass doors and we had gas heat. ( the tank size had to be increased!)

    It was a new experience to be in a cabin with the full moon illuminating the land….we just sat enjoying that light radiating from the snow…the nights of beauty.

    At first it was a grand adventure….say for about a month. No running water, an outhouse….and house temps ranging from hi 30s at ones feet to 70 at ones head. (We kept our feet on a trunk unless we were right by the fire. I kept thinking how good we had it compared to my immigrant ancestors homesteading and living through the winters! We had a vehicle…could drive to get groceries and filled the back of the jeep with plastic containers of water from the fresh spring outside Duluth. (That was our weekly run)

    Husbwnd left for the month of February to work in CA. That was one of the coldest February’s on record. Neighbors checked on me…brought me wood. AND my folks came to stay for a couple of days. I had them sleep in my other brothers cabin….my fathers summer home…with heat turned as high as it could go, a featherbed stop the bed and s heavyndown comforter which they brought. Their time was spent with me in a warmer cabin by the fire. Dads cousin came for coffee…a party with laughter and fun stories of their good old days.

    That visit was the hi-light of the stay….and when we moved into our place here…I took the longest hot shower I have ever taken.

    p.s.we lived there with 2 big dogs and a macaw parrot…we all survived.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There many people in house boats and small riverbank cottages when we lived in southern Indiana. I can believe many of them had the same world views as the “river rats” Steve alludes to.


  9. I have camped, canoed, and yes, portaged in the BWCA with a bunch of friends years ago. Also, when wasband and I lived in Cheyenne, we camped a lot all over the state and Colorado. Wyoming has so many great places to camp. I particularly enjoyed camping in Bridger-Teton National Forest, an immense wilderness area in Western Wyoming. It was there we once saw a bobcat in the wild, and unlike Yellowstone, not crowded with people. Of course, this was fifty years ago, so that could have changed.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What would the world be, once bereft
    Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
    O let them be left, wildness and wet,
    Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.

    – Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Liked by 2 people

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